Second Chances

The handwritten letters say it all. A young father with five children wants to go to college for carpentry so that he can “get a rell job and take cair of my kids and soon to be wife.” A single mother whose son is going off to college would “like my son to be proud of me. I will like to be proud of myself.” An immigrant from Mexico wants to “do something” with her life and help her daughter in school. These are just a few of the heartfelt dreams and struggles of adults entering the Dutchess Community College's GED and ESL programs. Lydia Binotto, who is the Assistant to the Dean of Community Services at the college, knows everyone who walks through her door looking for help. She initiated the GED program twenty years ago, and things were a lot different.

GED and ESL class at Dutchess Community College “When I came here it was one other teacher and myself,” she says. “Now we have 45 teachers and 12 sites all over the county. Our goal last year was 25 students and we had 62 in total. Thirty-two people took the exam, we were expecting 12.” Clearly, there is a great hunger for learning in this diverse community, and Berkshire Taconic is at the core of being able to provide an avenue to that knowledge amidst the struggles of everyday life. “We've had a lot of success with our students, and the hope is that will continue.”

A large part of the reason for the program's success is that students have access to childcare and transportation in order to be able to attend their classes. What many take for granted Binotto knows is at the very heart of the learning process. For the last three years, Berkshire Taconic, through its Northeast Dutchess Fund, has awarded a grant for the program to provide these necessities. The impact is huge.

“The whole thing works out really well,” Binotto says. “We are able to use the van from the Northeast Community Center. Childcare is done right on site and we provide snacks for the kids. Their parents are right there if there is ever a problem. We now have materials that belong specifically to the program, so that if someone wants to borrow a book to study, they can take it home with them. Berkshire Taconic has allowed us to be as flexible as we need to be to respond to the changing needs of the program.”

“Some people come from other countries where they were pharmacists and doctors in their communities,” Binotto says. “For whatever reason, their degrees are not transferable to the U.S. so they start from the beginning. They want to create a new life. One of the teachers we have was a lawyer in her country. She went through the GED program here and now she is teaching GED classes to help others on that path to get work, learn to read and write well. It's really important.”

It is a real effort for many participants to be in the classes – on top of working full-time jobs, caring for young children and navigating a tough economy with no car (and often times very little knowledge of the English language). Their drive can be read through the frustrating lines of one participant's letter who was striving to enroll in a licensed practical nursing (LPN) program in order to better support herself and her two sons.

“I need to be able to set an example for my boys as well as help them with their schoolwork,” she writes. “Also, how can I tell them how important school is when I have no education? I'm tired of not being able to spell correctly…I hate having to count my change three or four times after a cashier has handed it to me. I just need that 'satisfaction' that I'm not stupid.”

Many students will do whatever it takes to finish out the course and pass the GED exam, marking another stepping stone to a better life and a better future. And when that happens, Binotto sees the powerful results.“We've kept up with a lot of our students after they have been through the program,” she says. “And they are doing well. They are resolving the issues they came here to resolve. And their children are flourishing. Many in college. It's incredible.”

The Northeast Dutchess Fund was formed in 2002 to set in motion a community effort to build an endowment that would strengthen communities and improve the quality of life for the residents of Amenia, Clinton Corners, Dover Plains, Millbrook, Millerton, North East, Pine Plains, Stanford, Washington, Wassaic and Wingdale and their hamlets.

The Fund serves as an ongoing resource that can look across town borders and combine resources to achieve maximum benefit for the residents of these towns. Under the guidance of a group of community advisers, it reviews and makes grants in response to applications it receives, provides technical assistance to nonprofits and initiates projects to provide services that do not exist.
About This Photo
About This Photo
Pastor Russell Moody and volunteer Ann Apat. Story by Nichole Dupont